WASHINGTON: Royce Lewis smashed home runs in his first two playoff opportunities and the Minnesota Twins snapped the longest post-season win drought by games in American sport history, defeating Toronto 3-1 on Tuesday in a Major League Baseball series opener.
The Twins had lost 18 consecutive playoff contests, the most in any major North American sports league, since beating the New York Yankees in the first game of the 2004 American League division series.
They were also swept out of the MLB playoffs in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2017, 2019 and 2020.
Minnesota’s victory ended the epic post-season futility run and gave the host Twins a 1-0 lead in the American League best-of-three first round series, which continues on Wednesday.
“It means a lot,” Lewis said of snapping the historic drought. “And it means a lot that the fans encouraged us and they had that energy for us. They brought it and we brought it for them.”
Also winning their AL playoff opener were the Texas Rangers, who blanked host Tampa Bay 4-0 as US pitcher Jordan Montgomery struck out six without allowing a walk over seven shutout innings.
National League first-round openers later Tuesday find Arizona at Milwaukee and Miami at Philadelphia.
Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and the defending champions Houston all received first-round byes.
Minnesota’s Lewis, the 2017 MLB Draft top pick, blasted a two-run homer in the first inning off Toronto starter Kevin Gausman and tagged him for a solo homer in the third for a 3-0 Minnesota edge.
The 24-year-old US third baseman, who recovered from a sore hamstring just in time for the playoffs, matched Gary Gaetti from 1987 as the only Twins with two homers in a playoff game.
“This crowd was special,” Lewis said. “We’re just going to feed off that energy and keep going tomorrow.”
Toronto pulled within 3-1 in the sixth when Bo Bichette singled, advanced on a walk to Alejandro Kirk and scored on a Kevin Kiermaier single.
But Twins outfielder Michael Taylor leaped high above the outfield wall and grabbed an inning-ending out to deny Toronto’s Matt Chapman a three-run homer that would have put the Blue Jays ahead.
Minnesota reliever Jhoan Duran entered in the ninth, struck out Kiermaier and Chapman then walked Whit Merrifield before George Springer grounded out to first for the last out to complete the historic triumph, touching off an emotional on-field Twins celebration.
At Tampa Bay, left-hander Montgomery scattered six hits to baffle Rays batters in the fourth scoreless outing from his past five starts.
“I think he had everything,” said Texas slugger Corey Seager, who had two hits, scoring one run and driving in another.
“He had them off balance. He was just really impressive to be able to come out here and shut that lineup down at home.”
Tampa Bay made three fielding errors in the first three innings and fell behind early.
“We did take advantage of the mistakes they made and got the win,” Seager said.
Texas opened the scoring in the second inning when Nathaniel Lowe singled up the middle, took third on a Leody Taveras single to right and scored on Josh Jung’s sacrifice fly.
The Rangers doubled their lead in the fourth when Seager doubled, took third on an Adolis Garcia single and scored on a wild pitch by Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow.
Texas made it 4-0 in the sixth when Evan Carter and Marcus Semien walked and Seager drove in both with a single up the middle and throwing error by Rays centerfielder Jose Siri.
It was the first shutout playoff victory since 2011 for the Rangers, who missed out on a first-round bye and division title with a loss on the final day of theå regular season.